Chapter 1: Running Out of Lies
Tony Stark reclined at his desk, feet up and chair tilted back, looking utterly relaxed. If it wasn’t for the masked man in green hovering beside him on some sort of glider, it would have been the same as any other Thursday night.
“Alright. Just so I can react appropriately: am I being held hostage because I’m a billionaire, because I’m a genius, or because Captain America’s my husband?”
His captor said nothing, but managed to give the impression of sneering even though his mask was in the way.
Tony heaved a sigh. Great, the silent broody type. Those were no fun. If he had been the monologuing, “share my evil plan” variety of villain, at least Tony would have had some entertainment while he tried to figure out a way to get to the armor in his suitcase. Without being impaled by the rather impressive retractable spikes affixed to the bottom of the glider, that was.
Still, the tech the guy had was impressive. No match for the armor, to be sure, but at least the engineering side of his brain would have something pretty to look at while he waited for his opening. An opening he was going to have to make for himself, from the looks of things.
“Listen, can you give me a sense of how long this is going to take? Steve’s in Europe on Avengers business, so if we’re waiting on him it’ll be awhile, and I’d like to let Peter know if I’m going to be late for dinner.” Silence again, though it felt more anticipatory this time around. “Do you mind if I text? I’m going to text.”
Tony slid his Starkphone out of his pocket and began to type only to find himself face to face with a pike-like object.
“Oookay. No texting. Got it. You could have just said so. Just because you’re holding me against my will it’s no reason to be uncivil.”
The so-called “Green Goblin”, at least according to the local papers, snatched the phone from Tony’s hand. If it weren’t for the three-pronged weapon still positioned uncomfortably close to his face, Tony would have used the distraction to go for the briefcase resting against the wall by the door some two yards away.
“Come on,” Tony pleaded. “Let me call my kid and tell him I’m going to be late for dinner. Have a heart, Goblin. You had a Dad once. Or didn’t you?” Tony asked, cocking his head sidewise, putting as much sarcasm in his tone as possible. “Did Daddy not love you?” He made an exaggerated sad-face in the Goblin’s direction, ignoring the inner voice that sounded suspiciously like Steve when it told him villain-baiting was a pastime best indulged in costume. “Is that why you run around in that armor terrorizing people?”
The Goblin pressed a few buttons before holding the phone up. “Peter?” He crooned in a disturbing sing-song. “Your Daddy wanted me to call and let you know he’s going to be a little late for dinner. He’s been…held up at the office.” The Goblin paused, listening, before letting out a truly unhinged cackle and hanging up the phone.
Tony didn’t like that at all. The most the villain had engaged was while on the phone with his son, and that was not okay. Peter kept the last name Parker for several reasons. One of them was so he didn’t walk around with a giant target painted on his back. Which he would have had, every time he told someone he shared his last name with a superhero and a billionaire. Well, two superheroes, but no-one outside the Avengers was supposed to know that.
He had to get the masked man refocused, and he had to do it now. “So…what’s the plan here? Come on, Goblin. This isn’t my first rodeo. There’s got to be something you’re after.”
The Goblin ignored him.
His question was answered soon enough in a very dramatic fashion. A figure in red and blue spandex swung through the windows of Tony’s office before ordering the Green Goblin to release Tony.
“Spiderman?” Tony inquired incredulously. “You’ve been boring me to death for the past half-hour to lure out Spiderman? How does that even make sense? Iron Man, fine. Captain America, completely understandable. But Spiderman? Really?”
Spidey’s head twitched in his direction before his attention refocused where it should be – on the insane guy with the bombs and the mask.
“Do you want to tell him, little spider, or should I?” The Goblin cooed, and Tony felt the beginnings of a revelation forming in the back of his head.
Spiderman visibly tensed, and the Goblin let out a familiar maniacal laugh before running a hand down Tony’s cheek. It took every ounce of self-control Tony had not to let out a disbelieving, derisive scoff. Really? Really? They were going to play that game?
The hand continued downward, until it rested firmly against Tony’s arc reactor.
“Tell me, my little spider, what do you think will happen to the device that keeps him alive if I run 10,000 volts through it, hmm?”
“Jack shit,” Tony responded angrily. This was just getting ridiculous. “You honestly think I would design it with an obvious flaw like that?”
The Green Goblin appeared undeterred by this information. “And if I were to remove it?” He inquired casually.
Tony’s silence was answer enough and the Goblin laughed again.
Spiderman’s hand raised to his forehead, his fingers curling into the fabric as he yanked the mask roughly upwards before flinging it to the ground. “Don’t touch him,” a very familiar voice ordered angrily.
Tony stared at his son in silence for several long moments before he could find words appropriate for the situation.
“You,” Tony said, pride and terror churning together to create a painful knot in the middle of his chest, “are so grounded.”
Peter at least had the decency to look ashamed of himself. He had clearly learned that from Steve. Shame and Tony just didn’t go together. Ask anyone.
Then the full implications of what was happening finally clicked for Tony and he let out a small growl of anger. Because the Green Goblin? The Green Goblin was threatening his son. And that would not be tolerated.
He grabbed the hand pressed against his arc reactor and stood up abruptly, knocking the swivel chair out of the way in the process. Tony’s left hand seized the Goblin’s shoulder while his right twisted the villain’s arm sideways and then up against his back before pushing both hands down and slamming the Goblin down into Tony’s desk. All of this took place in less than three seconds – Tony didn’t spar with his super soldier husband just as foreplay.
“Web him,” he ordered his son in the same tone of voice he had used countless times for things like tie your shoes and eat your vegetables and you’re not allowed to use the blowtorch without adult supervision.
Peter, clearly realizing exactly how much trouble he was in, promptly did as he was told. Tony rushed over to his suitcase, kicked it over, and pressed the first release. He pushed again, jamming his hands into the gauntlets, lifting up and pressing the remains of the case against his chest before pulling his arms straight out, causing the rest of the armor to unfurl, plates sliding one after another into place until the armor was fully assembled.
“That…that is so unfair,” Peter finally got out.
Tony’s grin was hidden by the faceplate. “I’m your father. I’m allowed to be a giant hypocrite.”
“How touching,” the Goblin snarled. “A family get-together. I…”
Tony, really really didn’t like grandstanding. Unless he was the one doing it. Also, this douche had tried to kill his son at least three times that he knew about and Tony did not respond well to threats on his family. Just ask anyone who had ever threatened Steve. Those who were still capable of talking, anyway.
He aimed a full-powered repulsor blast at the glider the Goblin had been standing on, destroying the machine. If a few of the grenades he knew to be on the glider happened to detonate as well, peppering the Green Goblin with shrapnel, giving him second degree burns, and knocking him unconscious in the process, well then, it was no skin off Tony’s nose.
“JARVIS, put out a call for pick-up to shield HQ, will you?”
“Very good, sir.” The mechanized voice responded.
Tony flipped up the visor on his helmet up and stared at his son with his best parental face. “So, Peter. You have something you want to tell me?”
Peter met his eyes before staring down at his feet, cheeks stained red with shame. “I might have possibly been bitten by a radioactive spider when I went to that science exhibit.”
Tony perched on the edge of his desk, running a gauntleted hand through his hair and trying his best to remain calm. “That was almost two weeks ago, Peter. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I was going to. But I was waiting for Pop to get back. I felt like he was the only one I could talk to about it. Or Iron Man. But he wasn’t around…” Peter trailed off as his skin flushed even further, staring at Tony with an expression of absolute horror on his face. “Oh God. You’re Iron Man.”
Tony couldn’t help the truly evil smirk that crept onto his face. Over the years, Peter had taken to turning to Iron Man for answers to the kind of questions anyone would rather die than ask their parents.
“Condoms must be worn during blowjobs – don’t let anyone tell you any different. How are you and Harry doing, while we’re on the topic?” He asked, quirking an eyebrow with his smirk still firmly in place.
“Oh god,” Peter said, looking as if he wanted the ground to open up at swallow him whole. “Those stories…they’re about you and Pop?” Peter asked, somehow managing the impressive feat of being even more horrified than before.
Tony’s smirk only grew more pronounced before he quickly sobered. “Don’t think you can get out of talking about this by dying of humiliation,” he told his son firmly. “What did the bite do?”
“Something on a genetic level, I think. I’ve got a spider’s proportional strength and agility, I can cling to almost anything and...” Peter trailed off.
“And?” Tony prompted.
“I…I get this sort of…I don’t know, tingling? In the back of my head. From what I’ve been able to figure out, it’s when something’s wrong or when there’s some sort of danger.”
“Precognitive?” Tony asked, carefully taking note of all the information and filing it away to be analyzed later (the second he got home. The very second.).
“No,” Peter shook his head. “Not nearly as specific as that. It just…a sort of warning system, I guess?”
“And the webs?” Tony inquired.
As Steve’s second-in-command and leader of the Avengers while Captain America was out of town, it was Tony’s job to keep an eye on up-and-coming superheroes, especially those in the New York area. He’d been keeping an eye on Spiderman – photographs, news reports, and crime-scene reports he had poured over as part of his job.
Peter shook his head. “Not from the spider,” he said, holding up his arm to illustrate. “I designed these…I dunno, I call them ‘web shooters’.”
Tony’s chest swelled with pride. “You…you designed the canisters you use to shoot webs? And the compound itself?”
Tony’s grin grew almost manic as he crossed the room in a few short steps. He gripped Peter’s arm gently, rotating it back and forth so he could get the best possible look at the mechanism affixed to his son’s forearm. He peered at it intently at the device, taking in all the details he could, fascinating even on a surface level. He had to fight very hard to resist the urge to rip it off Peter’s arm and take it apart right there on the desk.
Judging by the glare Peter shot him, it probably showed on his face.
“You can’t tell me stuff like that and expect me not to react. I mean, really,” Tony said, reluctantly releasing Peter’s arm. “Nice costume, by the way. How’d you swing that?”
“When you live at Avengers HQ, people don’t really blink an eye at an online spandex order.” Peter said with a shrug.
“Spandex?” Tony said, momentarily losing the façade of calm covering the uncontrolled panic he had been feeling since Peter had unmasked. “That’s really just Spandex? Are you kidding me?” Tony said, staring at Peter. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“SHIELD agents approaching, sir,” JARVIS
His righteous anger was put on hold when he heard footsteps behind him. Tony slammed his faceplate down and stepped between his son and the door. Thankfully, despite being a monumental idiot (Spandex, what the fuck was he thinking running around with nothing but fucking spandex between him and the rest of the world when he was saving the day?), Peter pulled the mask back on, covering his face.
Good. He wasn’t ready to trust anyone else with this. Even SHIELD. Especially SHIELD, if he was being honest. They’d try and recruit him, and Tony was not having any of that shit.
“Iron Man,” a familiar, infuriately composed voice spoke from the doorway. “I thought you were taking the week off.”
“And I thought you had a new set of duties,” Tony replied, the suits’ mechanized voice depriving the Agent of the nuanced sarcasm of his tone.
“I was in the neighborhood,” he said, voice infuriatingly impassive.
“Coulson?” A slightly muted voice crowed from behind him. “Principal Coulson works for SHIELD?”
“Spiderman, I’m sure it’s past your bedtime. You should go home,” he said.
He gestured at the window, channeling all his panic into anger. The glare was not nearly as effective through the mask, but he was sure he had made it clear to Peter that he was in no mood to be crossed and the consequences would be severe if Peter didn’t hightail it back to the Avengers mansion.
Spiderman nodded before turning around and flinging himself headfirst out the window. Tony swore his heart stopped for the three or so seconds that elapsed between Peter’s self-defenestration and the sight of Spiderman swinging down the street from web to web.
As soon as he was sure, Peter was gone, he turned to Coulson and flipped up his faceplate to better glare at the man.
“He saw me suit up. I want him put away as quickly and as securely as possible. I won’t have my family at risk.”
“I assure you, Mr. Stark, that SHIELD’s holding facilities are more than capable of keeping Dr. Osborn contained.”
“They’d better be, Coulson, or I’ll…wait. Osborn? Norman Osborn?”
“He was under government contract, trying to recreate the super-soldier serum. He tested it on himself. The results were…unfortunate.”
Tony, unable to come up with anything more appropriate, swore. Repeatedly.
“Jesus Christ, I had him in my house yesterday. Yesterday. That fucking-son-of-a….” Tony took a deep breath. “You keep him in custody, Coulson. Or I will be very, very unhappy. And Cap will be disappointed.”
“And where are you off to?”
Tony slammed his faceplate back down. “It’s past my bedtime too,” he called, lifting off and flying out the window in the direction of home.
“Master Parker has arrived at the mansion, sir,” JARVIS’s voice informed him.
“Good. JARVIS, please make a note that Peter is grounded until the end of time and adjust protocols at the house accordingly. And call Steve. He and I need to have a talk about what his son’s done now.”
It was nearly one in the morning when Steve’s communicator went off.
“Tony? What’s wrong?”
“We need a minimum age for recruitment to the Avengers. I’m thinking twenty-five. Are you thinking twenty-five? Never mind, make that thirty. Definitely thirty.”
“Tony, that’s ridiculous. I’m only thirty-two.”
“You were born in 1917. You’re going to be a century old this July. You won’t have a problem,” Tony babbled, his words running together as they only did when he was agitated or excited.
“Tony…why are we even talking about this? I know you know what time it is here, and JARVIS thought this warranted a call on the Avengers line. What’s wrong?”
A deep, uneven breath. “I really need you home, Cap.”
Steve jerked up. “What happened?”
“I can’t talk about it over the phone,” Tony said, his tone barely concealing the raw panic that was obvious to Steve.
Tony had designed the Avengers communicators to be as secure as possible. The one in the armor had more encryptions than most state secrets. There was only one topic Tony never felt comfortable discussing on them. This, coupled with Tony’s anxiety, made Steve’s spine straighten, his breaths quicken, and his heart beat painfully against his ribs.
“I’ll be there as fast as I can,” he swore.
Steve arrived at the mansion at about half-past nine, pausing momentarily in the entryway to gather his courage.
“JARVIS?” Steve called tentatively.
“How…how bad is it?”
“Master Parker has been placed in a newly programmed level of grounding, in which he is scheduled to remain until ‘the end of time’. You husband is in the living room with the emergency scotch.”
“Well, shit,” was all Steve could come up with.
Steve took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He had to fight to keep his steps as regular as possible, but he managed to remain mostly calm on his journey to the living room. The sight that greeted him was far from encouraging.
Tony was sprawled on the couch, one hand wrapped around the neck of a bottle filled with amber liquid, the other gripped tightly around a red pen. Spread out on the coffee table in front of him were annotated articles from the Daily Bugle. Tony had three screens activated in front of him – one devoted to news coverage, one displaying a representation of a body with injuries mapped out in color-coded probabilities, and the third a calendar marked with sightings and altercations.
Each and every one was oriented around Spiderman.
Steve didn’t say anything. He walked around the couch, pried the bottle of scotch from Tony’s hand. He placed it on top of one of the less-flattering Bugle articles, and settled next to Tony on the couch. Tony didn’t acknowledge him at first, simply shifted forward until his elbows were resting on his knees with his clasped hands supporting his chin, eyes fixed unwaveringly on the data before him.
“Twelve days. Twelve days, seventeen arrests, and at least three broken bones. Twelve fucking days, and he managed to get an arch-nemesis. An arch-nemesis who discovers his secret identity. And I had no fucking clue anything was wrong,” Tony said, his voice soft but his words filled with emotion. “What kind of father am I?”
Steve’s world seemed to stop as what Tony had said, or more specifically, what he had implied, finally registered. Peter. Oh, god, Peter.
“Tony…Tony are you saying that our son is Spiderman?”
“Yes, Steve. That is exactly what I’m saying.”
Steve fell back against the couch, letting Tony’s voice wash over him as a backdrop to his twisted and tangled thoughts and emotions.
First was pride. How could he not be proud? How many people, if given the hand Peter had been dealt, would do what he had done? His son was risking himself to help others.
In a very close second was fear, the bone-deep kind of dread Steve should be used to dealing with by now but can never quite shake. Because his son was risking himself to help others. Steve did this for a living – he knew exactly how dangerous it could be. Hell, Steve had died doing this once. Having Tony in the same line of work was hard enough, but Peter? Tony’s scotch would be looking very attractive right about now if it would do any good.
Third was resignation, because Peter was just as mule-headed as both his fathers, and very rarely impulsive. If he had made the decision to put on a costume, he was going to stick to it, come hell or high water. Words from long ago echoed through his head; “There are men laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them. That’s what you don’t understand. This isn’t about me.” Steve had no right to ask Peter to do any less than he himself did, than Tony did, than any hero did. This wasn’t about them.
Fourth was determination. Because if Peter was going to do this, then Steve was going to make sure he was as safe as possible.
“…and he was running around in spandex, Steve. Spandex. Obviously I’ve confiscated his costume, but it’s going to take a while to synthesis enough vibranium to reinforce it properly…”
“We have to let him,” Steve said.
“We have to let him join the Avengers."
Complete and total silence. “I’m sorry? Did I hear you right? I must not have heard you right. Because I could swear you just said we had to let our sixteen-year-old son join the Avengers. But you can’t have said that, because that is fucking insane. Do you have any idea how dangerous…”
“He’s not going to stop. I know it, you know it; that’s why you’re reinforcing his costume – we both know he’s going to be using it again. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. We can’t keep him from doing this.”
“The hell we can’t,” Tony muttered. It was clear from his petulant tone that he agreed with Steve, he just didn’t like it.
“What we can do is keep an eye on him. We can make sure he has the best training, the best equipment, the best team.”
Tony wrapped his arms around Steve and buried his face in the crook of the super-soldier’s neck.
“I hate it when you make sense,” he murmured, pulling Steve as close as possible.
Steve didn’t say anything, just held his husband close, nose buried in Tony’s hair.
“We did a good job with him, huh?” Steve murmured, running his hand up his husband’s back and tracing the line of his spine through his shirt.
“Too good a job,” Tony grumbled against Steve’s neck.
“No such thing,” Steve responded. The smile on his face was small and bittersweet.
They stayed like that for several long moments, filled with a confusing knot of contradictory emotions, taking comfort in one another’s presence.
“I should go talk with him, shouldn’t I?” Steve asked ten minutes later.
“Yeah. You should. I don’t…I can’t. Not sensibly, anyway. Tried, but I think I’m all out of logic at the moment. Mostly running on panic and self-loathing.”
Steve shot his husband a sharp look, and Tony shrugged in response.
“I didn’t notice. What kind of parent doesn’t notice that their kid is sneaking out of the house to fight crime?”
Steve pressed a kiss to Tony’s forehead before disentangling himself. “Any parent. But we’ll talk about that later. I gotta go have a heart-to-heart with Peter.”
“He’ll probably want help processing the secret identity thing.”
“Well, I think he has a pretty firm grasp of the concept and its necessity, judging by his mask….”
“Not his,” Tony interrupted. “Mine.”
Steve just stared as his husband expectantly, arms crossed over his chest and one eyebrow arched.
“What, like I was just supposed to let my kid fight a villain by himself? No way. Not happening.”
Steve bent down to kiss the top of Tony’s head. “I’ll see you in a bit, okay? No driving yourself crazy in the meantime.”
“Do you know me?” Tony asked, glancing at Steve askance.
“Yes,” Steve responded immediately.
Tony gave a small, reluctant chuckle. “I’ll try.”
Steve deposited the decanter of scotch on the bar and shot one last concerned look over his shoulder before making his way to Peter’s room. When the door didn’t open when he tugged on the handle, he rolled his eyes. He and Tony were going to discuss this new, unprecedented level of grounding. There was punishment, and then there was imprisonment.
“Hey, JARVIS, you mind opening the door for me?”
“Certainly, sir.” There was a mechanized whir followed by a sharp click, and the door opened a crack.
Peter’s room looked deserted, but before Steve had a chance to get truly worked up, a voice from above spoke.
It was one thing to watch a masked hero using his powers and have someone point and say “that’s your son.” It was another thing entirely to look up at the ceiling and see your own pajama-clad child hanging from it.
Steve settled on his son’s bed, trying to conceal his disquiet. “Can you come down here? I think we need to talk.”
Steve couldn’t see Peter’s expression, but he could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was embarrassed and ashamed. “Alright,” he said reluctantly, crawling over to the wall and climbing halfway down before dropping to the ground. He walked over and sat gingerly on the bed next to Steve.
“Peter…” Steve trailed off, unsure how to begin.
“Before you say anything,” Peter interrupted, “it was never my intention to keep this from you. Either of you. I was going to talk to you about it as soon as you got back.”
“Why didn’t you wait, then? If you wanted to talk to someone about it, why didn’t you wait?”
Peter stared down at his hands, his shoulders hunched. “I was going to wait. That was the plan. But then…there was mugging. A mugging I could have stopped, if I hadn’t been waiting. He…Pop, he died. He died, and I could have stopped it.”
Steve placed a reassuring, comforting hand on his son’s shoulder. Peter didn’t shrug him off and they sat like that in silence for a long time.
“So…how much trouble am I in?” Peter asked eventually with a weak grin.
“Well, according to your father, you’re grounded until the end of time.”
Peter let out a small, unhappy groan.
“You really scared him, Pete.” Steve struggled to find the words that matched his feelings. “This…this wasn’t something either of us wanted for you. We…Pete, we wanted you to…I don’t know, become a famous physicist or...we wanted a normal life for you. Or as close to normal as possible. And it’s hard, watching that disappear. But at the same time, we couldn’t be more proud of what you’ve chosen to do with what you’ve been given. It just...this is a hard life, Peter. A dangerous life.”
Peter’s eyes, when they met his, were serious. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
“We never wanted you to have to know,” Steve replied.
“He…Pop, he took Dad. I just…”
“Your Dad can take care of himself, as he so often reminds me.”
The look Peter gave him in response made him laugh. “Okay. Okay. Fair enough. Your Dad is more than capable of holding his own a fight. Better?”
Peter huffed out a breath. “More truthful, anyway.” There was a pause as he struggled to find the words he wanted. “I just…I don’t even know how I feel right now.”
“I think that’s par for the course in this family tonight,” Steve replied dryly.
“So…what now? Don’t ask me to stop. I can’t…I have to do something, Pop.”
Steve held up a hand, stopping the flow of words before it had a chance to get going. “Firstly, you are grounded. You lied to us and while I understand that on some level, you should have trusted us with this, especially once you decided to put on a costume. Two weeks, though perhaps slightly less stringent.”
“During those two weeks, you will attend school. You will not miss any classes or sneak out to fight crime. I will know.”
“Did you really get a SHIELD agent assigned to be my principal?”
“The best agent. And he has experience in baby-sitting superheroes, so I wouldn’t try anything. During those two weeks, you will also train, under my supervision.” Peter’s eyes lit up, and Steve laughed. “Don’t get excited. I’ll make you work hard. Probably harder than anyone else.”
Peter nodded earnestly.
“At the end of those two weeks, if you haven’t broken the rules of your grounding and if I think you’re ready, you will join the Avengers.”
Peter gaped at him like a fish, and Steve didn’t bother trying to fight the laugh that bubbled up in response.
“Seriously?” he squeaked out eventually.
“If you’re serious about doing this…” Peter nodded firmly, “then I want you to do it as safely as possible. The Avengers are the way to do that – you’ll have resources, equipment, and most importantly, people you can trust to watch you back.”
Peter tried to look serious and adult as he nodded sagely, but the stars in his eyes ruined the effect. Steve couldn’t help but ruffle his hair, despite Peter’s protests. The return to something normal, something typical, was comforting.
“Pop…” Peter broke the silence. “…is Dad mad at me?”
“Today was a hard day for him, Peter. He’s…he’s worried about what happened. And hurt that you didn’t trust him.”
“I just…I didn’t want him to worry,” Peter said with a small grimace. “It seems silly now, but…”
“Worrying is what your Dad does. And he’ll worry more if he thinks you’re keeping things from him that he should be worrying about.”
“Yeah. I know. I know.”
“Go to sleep. We’ll have a team meeting in the morning, and you should be well rested.” Steve made his way to the door, pausing with his hand on the handle. “Your Dad and I love you, Peter. And we’re proud of you. So proud of you. Remember that.”
“I love you too,” Peter responded, his voice soft.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Steve said, happy his son couldn’t see his face. The shakiness in his voice was more than enough.
Steve felt like his heart was going to tear its way out of his chest, but he managed to get the words he needed out. “Welcome to the family business.”
He closed the door behind him, walked to the living room, and wrapped himself around Tony. He held his husband close and buried his head in the familiar space between Tony’s neck and shoulder, quietly mourning the life their son would never have.